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Avoiding e-mail migration migraines

Lots of companies are upgrading e-mail platforms or moving to new systems. Those who've made the move offer up advice from the trenches.

Many enterprises have recently completed e-mail migration projects, and many more are just getting started. Whether a company is migrating to Microsoft Exchange Server 2003, Notes/Domino 6.5 or another system, analysts and users say administrators should keep in mind several best practices to avoid costly mistakes.

A well-executed e-mail migration will lead to better technology, increased efficiency and more productive end users. The experts say the key to proper execution lies mostly in the planning and budgeting phases -- when the project team is chosen and the migration path is laid out.

"I've heard a lot of firms say that they were successful because they spent a lot of time planning," said Erica Rugullies, a senior analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research, who recently cowrote a report on ensuring e-mail migration success.

Moving to Microsoft Exchange Server 2003

Before upgrading to the latest edition of Exchange, it's important for companies to make sure their networks and servers meet these requirements:

--Domain controllers must be running Microsoft Windows 2000 Server Service Pack 3 (SP3) and later, or Microsoft Windows Server 2003.

--Global catalog servers must be running Windows 2000 SP3 or Windows Server 2003. Microsoft advises customers to have a global catalog server in every domain where Exchange 2003 is to be installed.

--Servers are running Windows Server 2003 or Windows 2000 Server SP3 versions of Microsoft Active Directory.

--Before upgrading an Exchange 2000 computer to Exchange 2003, the computer must be running Exchange 2000 Service Pack 3 (SP3) or later. If not, Exchange Setup will stop the upgrade process.

(Source: Microsoft)

Rugullies did dozens of interviews with CIOs about e-mail migration projects and found many are realizing that with all the new collaboration tools available, e-mail migration time is the best time to reexamine their companies' messaging strategy.

Develop a plan of attack

Third-party collaboration and messaging tools have grown rapidly in recent years with the advent of technologies like Web conferencing, instant messaging and real-time team collaboration rooms. Today, major vendors such as Microsoft, IBM Lotus and Oracle Corp. are leading the charge to make these collaboration tools a standard part of the enterprise infrastructure.

Keep that in mind when preparing for an e-mail migration or upgrade, Rugullies said. Part of the planning process should include looking for areas where third-party tools can be streamlined, replaced or consolidated.

Remember, she said, that e-mail migration should be carried out in the context of a company's overall collaboration strategy. Develop or refine that strategy prior to choosing a new e-mail platform or doing an upgrade. This will result in reduced licensing fees and fewer tools to support.

A migration team should include a project manager, a development lead, a testing manager and a user-education manager, according to Rugullies' report. All of the team members should be involved from design through implementation. Companies should select a project manager with excellent organizational and people skills, as well as the respect of their peers.

Analysts say an e-mail migration project is a perfect time to update a company's e-mail security and organizational policy. These policies may address message archival, the appropriate way to send broadcast e-mails, rules for sharing address books and methods for dealing with viruses and spam.

Another step to take during the preparation for this monumental task is to reduce the amount of data that needs to be migrated, the report said. Typically, firms will move all contacts and global distribution lists over to the new platform, but personal lists are often manually recreated by end users. Shared folders are usually migrated, but calendars are not. Also, it's wise to ask end users to clean out their inboxes before a migration.

When working with senior management to figure out a budget for the move, administrators should lobby to have extra money earmarked for end-user training and support. Rugullies said companies often underestimate how much training will be needed.

Carrying out the migration

Large companies that are migrating from one e-mail platform to another will require a coexistence period, according to the report. During this phased approach, data is extracted from the old systems and translated into a neutral format via a gateway system. It is then imported to the new system. The report said coexistence requires directory synchronization and much more planning than a single-stage migration.

A single-stage rollout is the right choice for companies with fewer than 1,000 employees because they have less data to move, according to the report. In a single-stage rollout, all the information is migrated at once. When the new system is live, the old one is taken offline. Rugullies said this sort of migration can be carried out over a long weekend to minimize downtime.

Advice from the trenches

Vinu Jacob, a senior messaging engineer with New York law firm Willkie, Farr & Gallagher, has worked with several e-mail platforms and is currently overseeing his company's migration from Microsoft Exchange 5.5 to Exchange 2003.

Jacob urged companies to test their backups prior to beginning any migration. Build out a server in a prototype lab environment and practice restoring your e-mail systems there, he said.

Willkie, Farr & Gallagher is migrating without outside help because its internal IT talent pool is full of expertise in this area. Companies that don't have the in-house skills should definitely invest in consulting services, Jacob said.

He offered up his three-word mantra to ensure the success of an e-mail migration project, regardless of the platform: "Document, document, document."

Take notes on every step of the migration process and make sure they're readily available to all involved in the project, he said. Doing so saves time, increases efficiency and helps everyone avoid confusion and redundancy. It also creates a record that will prove useful in future migrations.

"Make one change at a time," Jacob said. "That way it's traceable if something goes wrong."

Along those same lines, Jacob said to create a central repository of project data that can be easily accessed by high-level executives. Include information about each step of the project, how much progress has been made, when it will be completed and how much money is being spent.

"That is really the kind of dollars-and-cents information executives can use to set expectations," he said.


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